I have just returned from an exhilarating tour of some major cities with my new book, and inevitably acquired the tag of intellectual along the way (the other day, a random person on Twitter called me a ‘Lagos intellectual’ and left me quite giddy – forget the fact he was actually attacking me).
I have become such a go-to intellectual these days that Nigerian and African guests insist on having intellectual conversations with me about, you know, the crisis in the Central African Republic, the implications of new monetary regimes, and of course –- the oncoming death of books, reading culture and therefore all authentic intellectualism across the world.
It’s always interesting to see people automatically assume that I agree with them, as they mock and deride young people who don’t buy books, who don’t read printed material and who have no time for anything longer than 400 words.
They say it’s a sign of the end times, a symbol of the moral decay that has afflicted all of humanity and made our young people lazy, entitled, incapable of thought, depth, and empathy. Forget of course that the world’s biggest innovators at present are younger than 40. They probably have read all of Shakespeare’s volumes.
Because I had books to sell, fans to cultivate, and I no use for unnecessary disagreement in a time of peace and love, I would smile indulgently and make a few grunts disguising as agreement. But I know it’s a false alarm.
First, it is not a Nigerian problem, this genocide of the (print) reading culture. It is a global problem.
Yes there is the part of it that is perhaps peculiar to us, and even then not just to us to but across the region. You go to West African nations like Ghana or Benin or Togo, and young people are unable to read – due to poverty and so illiteracy, falling standards of education and rampaging inequality. But all of that is just dealing with symptoms. The paradigm is shifting elsewhere.
For one, young people have shorter attention spans, and for good reason. The cycle of knowledge is faster, and IQs have grown radically. Thanks to the ‘Flynn Effect’, we now know that we are in fact radically brighter than our grandparents, and it is only going to get better each generation.
Across the world, young people no longer care much for paper or for that matter conventional TV. And for good reason – they have better, more effective options. The rise of multimedia means people have easier, stickier sources of knowledge, information and ideas. That’s a good thing. Because it’s all about the outcome.
Hence I am finally closer to finishing the entire bible thanks to my audio version, read by superstars including Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, and (because I am a patriot) Paul Adefarasin. And I promise you; the voice of God has never been more soothing.
You can no more complain about the death of penmanship (if you’ve watched the movie “Doubt”, you would no doubt feel wrenching sympathy for Meryl Streep’s character linking the death of penmanship to all that ails the world) than you can complain about the rise of computers. Easier doesn’t mean dumber.
It’s a bit tiring, really. Every generation has always complained about the slackers and stupidity of the upcoming generation. People complain about Davido’s lyrics as if Shina Peters didn’t sing of boobs and behinds, and my aunties flinch at Tonto Dikeh’s thighs on screen as if Eucharia Anunobi flashed a different body part in Glamour Girls II. People who rail against the Brazilian Hair craze now are no different from those who condemned girls who wore trousers in the 90s.
It’s a vicious cycle: each generation always thinks itself better, more hard working, more moral than the next. False.
In any case, like I told a Punch interviewer last month, people are reading — blogs and church material. They certainly read ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and ‘There was a country’ in record numbers. The question should be, what is the public angling for at the moment? Moreover, how are publishers and those custodians of art and culture going to meet that need? We need to answer those questions, and locate their intersection with evolving technologies.
Of course I would prefer a world of books. Nothing gives me greater joy than the smell of a new book. Walking through Barnes and Nobles, WH Smith or the former book section of Nu Metro in Lagos are a form of therapy for me. But that’s neither here nor there. I also liked floppy discs.
If a generation prefers to use Instagram to communicate where you used to letters, let them be. If they can raise money with hashtags where you needed to walk 10000 miles, we thank God for small mercies. The world moves on. It’s our job to move with it.